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Apr

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Last week I did something quite mad and flew all the way to Argentina to spend 3 days in Mendoza for the Park Hyatt Masters of Food & Wine. I had missed it the previous year and didn’t want to this time round despite the long journey for such a short stay. I am happy I went. And if you haven’t been, you should go. Mendoza is beautiful. The wines and food are great and the people totally charming, and beautiful.

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One of the wineries we visited was Catena Zapata, a huge estate with the main building seemingly modeled on a zigurat that could easily be used as a setting for a Hollywood movie — Cecil B. deMille would have loved the grand stone staircase leading to the cellars.

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Lunch was served outside with different chefs’ stations and my favourite was a dish cooked by Janaina Rueda, a Brazilian chef from Sao Paolo who is as pretty and charming as she is talented. She had prepared a pork stew using shanks which she served with creamed corn. Totally delicious. And the wines we tasted were very good too. We then went down the Cecil B. deMille staircase to the cellars for some serious tasting of rather precious wines. The cellars were also precious with beautiful coloured barrels and marvelous rooms stacked floor to ceiling with bottles.

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I am not sure how I stayed sober throughout the weekend because before our lunch at Catena Zapata, we had stopped at Ruca Malen, where they had laid a wonderful wine tasting en plein air, right by the vineyards with some delicious tidbits that were perfectly paired, and perfectly served. Of course I could have spat my wine like everyone else but for some reason I hate spitting and never do!

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But before we could enjoy these earthly delights, we were taken on a tour of the winery by a charming oenologist who explained all about the different Ruca Malen wines, including their Kiniens which were quite exceptional. I captured most of what she told us on my little flip camera and you can watch the clips here and here and here and here. One day, when I have time, I will learn how to edit and join my clips. Perhaps this summer when I escape the Olympics.

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The next day, we went to another winery, Bodega Rutini in Tupungato, which was bigger than the two we had visited and where the owners had arranged for music to be piped everywhere, outside and inside which I can’t say I liked very much but then I am a killjoy when it comes to loud music.  They had also organised a competition where we were supposed to guess the types of wines, drinking them from the tanks before they had matured properly. It was a rather fun exercise (which we lost), carried out in the huge caves with the stainless steel tanks, another perfect location for a film but this time a horror or scifi one.

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Lunch that day was cooked by Chef Jose Rocha, a Mexican guest chef from Dubai, who managed to cleverly combine Mexican, French and Arab. I particularly liked the idea of the shawarma profiterole and the sumac dusting over the smooth guacamole.

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But it wasn’t a perfect day because our bus broke down on the way back, and in the middle of nowhere! Fortunately, everyone was very good natured about it including a German journalist who was so unfazed by the whole thing that he carried on reading his book as he moved from one place to another. He probably wasn’t amused but we were.

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I went for a walk along the road hoping to find a shrine which travelers set up and add to for good luck on the road and which I had seen at regular intervals by the roadside but I didn’t find any. I had to snap the one in the picture below as we were driving past it on the bus.

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As we were waiting for a replacement bus, the Rutini oenologist drove past us on his way back to Mendoza and lovely Karina, who you can see on the right of the bottom picture (and in the Catena Zapata cellars above) with other Brazilian beauties including Janaina on the far left, arranged for me and two other ladies to go back with him and his wife. We were saved but sadly I missed the visit to Zuccardi the following day as well as a visit to Mendel, my lovely friend’s winery where they make an excellent Malbec. I will have to wait till my next trip when I will make sure to stay longer! And if it coincides with another Masters of Food & Wine event, I will make sure not to miss the dinners!

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